Longing for Oneness and Sameness
In an article titled “Authoritarianism Is Not a Momentary Madness, But an Eternal Dynamic Within Liberal Democracies,” Karen Stenner and Jonathan Haidt make an interesting argument. (The article is part of a book edited by Cass Sunstein, Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, which I will review in an upcoming issue of Regulation.)
Stenner and Haidt define the authoritarian personality in terms of
an enduring predisposition to favor obedience, conformity, oneness, and sameness over freedom and difference. … In the absence of a common identity rooted in race or ethnicity (the usual case in our large, diverse, and complex modern societies), the things that make “us” an “us”—that make us one and the same—are common authority (oneness) and shared values (sameness).
Authoritarians, which in the authors’ opinion make about one-third of society, vote for right-wing populist politicians (Trump in the United States or Marine LePen in France) or causes (such as Brexit) when their longing for oneness and sameness is threatened and they feel a strong leader is required to reestablish unity.
It is difficult not to recall a remarkable 2016 campaign advertisement, well worth listening to at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhE3TzFVB_c. It shows Donald Trump saying:
I will unify and bring our country back together. … We will be unified, we will be one, we will be happy again.
This does not mean that the preceding political rulers were not also authoritarians, but they were, along most dimensions, a few notches lower on the authoritarian scale. They were also less brazen. I am not saying that Trump is not, on a small number of issues, less authoritarian: a blind man throwing darts can randomly hit a target that he does not see and does not actually want to hit.